Intention in Jewish Mystical Prayer

Rabbi Dr. Meir Sendor
Previously: Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University
Currently: Rabbi
Young Israel of Sharon, MA

The topic of this lecture is kavanah, which is normally translated as intentionality, focus and direction, as applied to spiritual practices. Judaism refers to three general levels of kavanah, with the higher levels seen as prerequisites for any mystical connection with the divine. The kabbalists developed the idea of kavanah so that it became central to their practices and mystical ascensions, creating systems of practices that would effect quasi-prophetic states. Kavanah is presented in Jewish thought, from the Talmud to Maimonedes and codified in Joseph Karo’s legal works, as an essential ingredient to a higher spiritual awareness.

These very high levels of mystical intention in spiritual practice are considered to be the actual experience of unity, of seeing one divine consciousness pervading all. Because of this height, the kabbalists compared this attainment to prophecy. The lecture ends with a discussion of the relationship between prayer and prophecy.